Shapiro vs Mastriano: The future of Pennsylvania’s criminal justice system

Shapiro vs Mastriano: The future of Pennsylvania’s criminal justice system

The Des compares where the candidates for PA Governor fall on criminal justice

Today, Pennsylvanians will cast their votes for the new State Governor. The state, and nation, has a close eye on the gubernatorial race. The role, currently occupied by Democrat Tom Wolf, consists of the enforcement of state laws in addition to the powers to convene the state legislature or approve or veto the bills it passes. A number of partisan issues, most prominently abortion rights statewide, will be definitively determined by this election. Also at stake is the future of Pennsylvania’s criminal justice system. On the ballot, voters will be presented with a choice for Democratic candidate Josh Shapiro or Republican candidate Doug Mastriano. In the swift run up to election day, The Des brings you a complete breakdown of how these two candidates compare on all-things criminal justice.

How can each candidate’s criminal justice policies be described in one sentence? 

SHAPIRO: Smart (and tough)-on-crime reformist

MASTRIANO: Heavy on prosecution, light (or non-existent) on reform 


Have the candidates promised criminal justice reforms?

SHAPIRO: Shapiro says if elected, he will pursue reform, something Pennsylvania is in “critical need” for. He describes the “false” choice between “public safety and common sense, comprehensive criminal justice reform” as something he refuses to accept.

MASTRIANO: Mastriano’s campaign website makes no promises for criminal justice reform. However, his voting history reveals he is in favor of police reforms. Read below for more information regarding Mastriano’s position on law enforcement and policing. His policy proposal does say he wants to strengthen certain regulations.

If so, what kinds?

SHAPIRO: Shapiro enacted several reforms as Attorney General. Read more below on how Shapiro’s past actions reflect his current promises. As Governor, Shapiro is proposing seven reforms he hopes to implement: 

  • Probation and reform parole: Shapiro cites the $101 million of taxpayer money that goes towards incarcerating people who have committed only technical violations, rather than new crimes. He wants to reinvest this money into different programs targeted at “getting violent criminals off our streets.”
  • Funding indigent defense: Shapiro wants to introduce state funding for legal representation for indigent Pennsylvanians, something he pursues in his previous role as Montgomery County Commissioner. Pennsylvania is currently the only state giving zero dollars to public defense programs. 
  • Opposing mandatory minimum sentences: Shapiro will continue to oppose this policy, which has not been in use in PA law since 2015. 
  • Reform of the “felony murder rule”: Shapiro says he will legislate against this rule so that those who have committed murder do not automatically receive a life sentence without the possibility of parole. 
  • Geriatric parole: Shapiro cites concern for both members PA’s aging prison population and for the taxpayer money that funds the consequent medical expenses. Given that inmates over the age of 65 have the lowest risk of recidivism, Shapiro wants to give elderly inmates opportunities to apply for geriatric parole. 
  • Abolition of the death penalty: Shapiro vows to never sign a death warrant and to legislate against the death penalty. 
  • Legalizing marijuana: Shapiro wants to legalize recreational marijuana and expunge the records of anyone serving time for nonviolent marijuana charges. He says he will allocate the funds from incurrent tax benefits to support minority ownership within the marijuana industry. 

MASTRIANO: Mastriano has not promised reform; he does want to “keep violent criminals behind bars where they belong” and “strengthen penalties for repeat offenders and those convicted of violent crime.”

Have the candidates made policy choices that will have an indirect effect on criminal justice?

SHAPIRO & MASTRIANO: Pennsylvania, and specifically Philadelphia, has long been an arena for a phenomenon known as the school-to-prison pipeline. The pipeline reflects the movement of children, usually from underfunded schools, into the juvenile justice system. Interestingly, both candidates have stated they will implement similar educational policies. 


Both candidates want to either increase school funding or ensure “well-funded schools,” respectively. School funding increases can have a positive effect on narrowing the school-to-prison pipeline. However, both candidates want to introduce a policy of school choice, which would allow parents to choose the public institution they would like their children to attend, rather than being limited geographically. This could have an adverse effect on educational inequality and the school-to-prison pipeline, as school choice policies have been correlated with increased inequality between schools. 

What are the candidates’ views on law enforcement and policing?


SHAPIRO: Shapiro is pro-police and wants to hire more police officers throughout Pennsylvania. He describes his position as two fold: Pennsylvanians have a right to “be safe and feel safe.” Shapiro says that being safe represents the need for increased law enforcement presence, but feeling safe refers to the need that all citizens feel that the police will keep them safe regardless of factors like race. In a campaign launch press conference, Shapiro says he will ensure people feel safe through seeing “police that are from the community, that are properly trained, that work hand in hand with our community groups to keep us safe, and that understand they’ve got to get out of their patrol cars, walk the beat, learn the names of our children and talk to the people who really run the neighborhood.” Shapiro does not provide concrete policy choices which would ensure that his new camp of police officers would work with community groups to prevent abuse by police. His campaign website says Shapiro is calling to “immediately hire officers to fill open roles, and invest in recruitment and training to ensure you can count on law enforcement to respond in an emergency.” 


MASTRIANO: Mastriano’s campaign website says he will “support law enforcement by ensuring they have adequate funding,” and that he “won’t hesitate to assist local law enforcement with State Police and National Guard to protect law-abiding citizens and businesses during periods of mass unrest and riots.” Mastriano was photographed in attendance at the January 6 insurrection, but claims to have left before the riot broke out. While Mastriano does not outline any concrete policing policies, as a Pennsylvania House Representative, he voted in favor of three bills pertaining to policing. HB 49 authorized that school police may make arrests on school premises; SB 1205 prohibited the use of police chokeholds; HB 1910 established new training requirements for police officers. These requirements include training on interacting with individuals of diverse racial, ethnic and economic backgrounds; implicit bias training; recognizing and reporting child abuse; and annual training on the use of appropriate force. 


How will the candidates allocate funding for the justice system? 


SHAPIRO: Shapiro’s proposed policies include increased funding for police training and the “appropriate” funding for police more generally. He also wants to allocate more state funds towards indigent defense, or criminal defense services such as public defender programs. His criminal justice plan includes the funding of mental health and various other specialty courts to try those suffering from mental illnesses. 

MASTRIANO: Mastriano’s plan entails the provision of “adequate” funding for law enforcement. He also says he will support funding for “additional prosecutors in high-crime areas.”

What crimes are the candidates paying special attention to? 


SHAPIRO: As Attorney General, Shapiro took a special interest in “ghost guns.” He wants to close a loophole in the law that renders these “ghost” guns untraceable. Ghost guns are made when separate parts are purchased and then assembled. Shapiro investigated this phenomenon by sending an agent to a suburban Philadelphia gun show, where he was sold a ghost gun kit, assembled it, fired it, and took it back to New York. 


MASTRIANO: Mastriano has not explicitly focused his policy proposals on any one crime. Notably, he does want to criminalize abortion (read more below) and ban chartered flights or busses into Pennsylvania with “illegal immigrant passengers.”

Actions speak louder than words. How have the candidates already shown how their policies might be implemented?

SHAPIRO: Shapiro’s background is in law; he has served as Pennsylvania’s Attorney General since 2017. The Pennsylvania Government website defines Josh’s previous role as Attorney General as having the responsibility “to represent victims of crime and abuse; defend individual rights; and hold the most powerful interests accountable to the law when they rip off or harm Pennsylvanians.” In his own words, as AG Shapiro “enacted bail reform for non-violent and low-level offenses,” “led the bipartisan coalition to create a statewide Police Misconduct Database,” and “directed our Agents to stop using chokeholds and end the use of no-knock warrants.”


When he served in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives (2005-2012), Shapiro voted YES for: 

  • Establishing the Special Juvenile Victim Compensation Fund HB 2572 06/30/2010
  • Expungement of Criminal Records and Juvenile Records HB 264 07/14/2009
  • [Intellectual disability] consideration in murder cases HB 698 06/12/2006


MASTRIANO: Serving in the Pennsylvania Senate since 2019, Mastriano has voted YES for: 

  • Prohibition of premature release of an individual who has committed a violent offense while imprisoned HB 146 07/06/2022
  • Increased penalties for fleeing the police on foot SB 814 10/26/2021
  • Established new guidelines to reduce probation sentences SB 14 07/15/2020
  • Establishes new training requirements for police officers HB 1910 06/30/2020
  • Prohibits use of police chokeholds SB 1205 06/24/2020
  • Authorizes school police to make arrests HB 49 11/21/2019 


How do the candidates address inequalities within the justice system?

SHAPIRO: On his campaign site, Shapiro says “we must address the reality that Pennsylvania’s justice system disproportionately impacts people of color.” Black residents make up 12% of the state population yet account for 46% of incarcerated people. Shapiro offers a vague solution of investing in public safety while “pursuing smart criminal justice reform that will address those inequities, restore trust, and make our communities safer.” See above for more information on Shapiro’s proposed reforms.

MASTRIANO: Mastriano does not mention inequalities within the justice system.

Are any policy points surprising?

SHAPIRO: Shapiro’s hard-on-crime stance is not standard for a democratic candidate. Recent polls have shown that the majority of voters prefer Republicans over Democrats when it comes to fighting crime and maintaining public safety. Shapiro’s approach may distance him from the rest of his party, but counters the idea of Democrats as weak on crime.

MASTRIANO: While not conceptually surprising, Mastriano’s pro-life stance is extreme. Mastriano is vehemently anti-abortion and has urged murder charges for who women who violate abortion bans. He introduced a Heartbeat Bill which would prohibit abortion from the moment a fetal heartbeat was detected, which would criminalize women and doctors who violate it. 


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